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Without timeline to resolve broken promise, feds still say lifting water advisories a ‘top priority’

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OTTAWA —
All drinking water advisories in First Nations communities across Canada were supposed to be lifted this month, but with dozens still in place the federal government won’t commit to a new timeline for when every Indigenous person on reserve will be able to safely drink from the taps.

Indigenous Services Canada says that lifting all outstanding drinking water advisories remains a “top priority,” but other than vowing to put the work in “as quickly as possible,” the government won’t say whether it could be months or years before these advisories are resolved for good.

“It’s not about putting another sort of arbitrary date,” Deputy Minister of Indigenous Services Christiane Fox said during a technical briefing with reporters.

“It is about the commitment to lift them all as quickly as we can. And that’s really how the department is looking at this very important work and putting all the measures in place to do that effectively, and as quickly and safely as possible… and doing it in a way that is open and transparent to communities and to Canadians,” she said.

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On Wednesday, Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller announced that the federal government is launching a redesigned website where people can track the ongoing construction projects.

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The federal government continues to cite COVID-19 as an exacerbating factor in why it has not been able to fulfill this commitment, though as the Auditor General of Canada Karen Hogan noted in a recent report, while pandemic-related restrictions delayed progress on some projects, “many were already facing delays prior to the pandemic.”

Hogan’s report highlighted that Indigenous Services Canada “did not provide adequate support to First Nations communities” to ensure they have access to safe drinking water and until the federal government addresses several underlying deficiencies with the water systems and make long-term improvements and funding commitments, First Nations communities in Canada will continue to not have reliable access to clean drinking water.

Since the Liberals took over the file 101 long-term advisories have been lifted, with the departmental officials noting Wednesday that means 5,850 homes and 430 community buildings now have clean water. However, they didn’t put a number on how many homes and community facilities are still without clean water, years later.

As of now there are 38 communities where a total of 58 long-term drinking water advisories remain in place. Here’s how they break down across the country:

  • In Ontario there are 26 communities affected by 44 long-term advisories.
  • In Manitoba, there are four communities affected by four long-term advisories.
  • In Saskatchewan there are six communities affected by eight long-term advisories.
  • In British Columbia there are two communities affected by two long-term advisories.
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